“That damnable doctrine”, wrote Lord Horatio Nelson in 1805; “I will speak and fight to my death to secure its defeat.”
He was referring to the idea of black freedom as a human right which the Haitians had placed at the centre of their recently passed constitution.
The slave-owning white men in Barbados funded the making of a statue to their hero, Horatio Nelson, and abused their parliamentary power to erect it in 1813. It was strategically placed at the centre of Bridgetown, next to the very Parliament that slave owners monopolized.
The slave owners had three objectives in mind:
(1) that the enslavement of our 83,000 black ancestors on the island was right, profitable, and should last forever;
(2) that the children of these enslaved persons, who they intended to own, control, and subordinate forever, should see the Nelson statue as a symbol of white military, economic and social power; and
(3) that all blacks on the island should gaze upon the object and shake with fear in the contemplation of offending it purpose.
Today, 200 years after its erection, the slave owners’ vision remains intact. Nelson is unmoved, and blacks are still quivering.
Barbadian slave owners loved Nelson and endorsed his “damnable doctrine” views. William Wilberforce, they said, was its leading advocate. They burnt Wilberforce’s effigy in Bridgetown and built a statue to Nelson. Barbados was the prime site of the resistance to this “damnable doctrine” of black freedom, and the statue of Nelson, its symbol.
Nelson wore two hats that enabled him to carry the political status as Britain’s leading campaigner against black freedom. As a politician sitting in the House of Lords, he opposed, abused and humiliated Wilberforce for his lifelong effort to end the criminality of the British trade in enchained, enslaved African bodies. In addition, as a supreme naval commander he was uniquely empowered, unlike any politician, to give military might to his political posturing.
These two identities made Nelson the darling of Barbadian slave owners. His death made them fearful that they would lose military control of the island and ownership over the 83,000 blacks. They erected a life-size statue of the man who represented the message they wished to communicate to the black majority.
It was in a well-known letter written on 10th June, 1805 to his old friend Simon Taylor, a large-scale Jamaica enslaver, that Nelson outlined his views on slavery, colonies, and British imperial rule of the West Indies. He wrote:
“I have ever been, and shall die a firm friend to our colonial system. I was bred as you know in the good old school, and taught to appreciate the value of our West Indies possessions, and neither in the field nor in the senate, shall their interest be infringed while I have an arm to fight in their defense or a tongue to launch my voice.”
This letter signalled the tone of his political speeches and voting pattern in the House of Lords. Together, they served to set him apart as the most prominent public figure fighting against the very idea of black freedom.
Nelson was as effective a bullish politician as he was a sea dog in the war to ensure the continuity of the black slave trade and slavery. His blistering tirades against Wilberforce and those who opposed slavery won him many supporters in Great Britain, and especially in Little England.
Wilberforce’s strategy was to target Barbados slave owners, representing them as the most evil and wicked men in the British Empire. He and his disciple, Fowell Buxton, focused on their slave management and described them as most foul persons who could see no future without the ownership and control of blacks.
For this, Nelson targeted and denigrated Wilberforce. In this regard he boasted to Simon Taylor that he will fight and speak to the death against the “damnable doctrine of Wilberforce and his hypocritical allies”. The concept that the promotion of freedom for black people was a “damnable doctrine” went viral. In addition to a warrior and politician, Nelson became an intellectual spokesman for white enslavement of blacks. However, to those persons in the British parliament and civil society who wanted slave trading and slavery ended, he was an evil man, a hater of black people and represented the wickedness of the British Empire.
In 1966, after 339 years of British colonial barbarity, the collective wisdom of Barbadians drove them to turn their back on the evil Empire and to become as decent and democratic an independent nation as was possible. But citizens have been psychologically programmed for two centuries and have not vandalized the obscenity in our city, nor scandalized the slave owners’ scam upon our society.
We have reached the end of our endurance. We are not going to travel any deeper into this 21st century carrying the baggage of this 19th century brutality. Nelson should be taken down by the parliament before it is torn down by the people. It should be sent to the pier, out of site of the parliament, to hear a watery eulogy.
As our nation approaches democratic elections, political parties should declare their positions on this proposition. Surely, I will cast my ballot in support of the freedom fought for in 1816, and against the enslavement desired in 1813. Who will rise up and free the nation of this psychic abuse? Is there not a brave woman or man amongst us? Are we still living in fear of the Nelson project? Are we still quivering in fear of being public advocates of the “damnable doctrine”?